|One of my favourite Christmas activities is to read a good book about the meanings and interpretations of this season. This year, the book which won that spot for my attention is “The World Encyclopedia of Christmas”. |
Here’s how it begins – “In the Czech Republic a child gazes at a carp swimming in her bath tub; in Portugal a man is trying to make a turkey drunk. In Ethiopia men are shouting and waving hockey sticks; in New Zealand a family is barbecuing on the beach. In Denmark they are lighting a candle, while in Mexico they are strolling behind a young couple searching for a place to stay. In Austria costumed figures are driving demons away with brooms, while in Canada warmly dressed singers are trudging door to door through the snow. In Japan someone is reserving a table at an expensive restaurant, while in China someone is reserving a seat in a cathedral. Children everywhere are yearning for the annual visit of Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Mother Goody, Grandfather Frost, P’ere Noel, Befana, Baboushka, Saint Nicholas, or the Old Lady of Bethlehem. A myriad of different activities indicates that it is Christmas time on planet earth.
There can be no doubt that Christmas is the world’s most popular holiday.
”How did it happen, how has it come to be that this celebration has seized the attention of humankind? Why does it turn your world delightfully into chaos, expectation, expense and hopefully, into a few, quiet, silent nights?We could point the finger to any of the hundreds of traditions you can find in the World Encyclopedia of Christmas, but as the book’s author, historian Dr. Gerry Bowler points out, everything about this holiday emanates from one truth.
Dr. Bowler concludes: “It’s original meaning – and still its deepest – was the celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus in Bethlehem and the solemnities surrounding the profound mysteries by which God took on human form.
Jesus was a real person on planet earth. Whether you are an atheist, a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, it cannot be escaped that even secular history records the life of Jesus. To remember His birth into humanity, our cultures and traditions have decided that a celebration is in order and that becomes Christmas. And how do people respond? Bah humbug on all this Jesus stuff in this season?We make a birthday cake at our home each December 24. From the toy box some 14 years ago, I hastily grabbed enough farm animals to make a manger set and together with a stall made of pretzels or chocolate sticks, that scene becomes the centrepiece of the cake. I remember one house guest helping us decorate the cake asking, “whose birthday is it anyway?”. That’s a good question to ask at Christmas because it gives your mind an opportunity to explore Jesus. Before there were Christmas cakes, before there were trees, presents and lights, there was the divine story of God wanting humanity to discover Jesus.
The Bible books of Matthew and Luke record it this way:
“The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced. While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus – ‘God saves’ – because he will save his people from their sins.”
Matthew 1:18 – 22
“ …. Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus. He will be great, Be called ‘Son of the Highest.’ The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; He will rule Jacob’s house forever – No end, ever, to his kingdom.”
Luke 1: 30 – 33
You can say bah, humbug all you want, but the proof is undeniable. Today, we celebrate Christmas as part of that never ending kingdom of Jesus. The reality of Jesus lingers all around the globe in the hearts, thoughts and traditions of humankind. If you are going to truly celebrate Christmas, you must discover the Christ of the season, the person of Jesus.
This earliest Christmas story holds several keys to unwrapping the discovery of Jesus. First – there has to be a starting point for Jesus to enter your life. Picture Mary and Joseph, planning, as all young couples do, the future for their lives. They lived in a tight, closely knit Jewish community where the law meant an engaged woman who became pregnant as an adulteress was subject to death by stoning.
Mary’s response when she heard she was to receive an unplanned pregnancy was initially one of fear, but as God pressed into her mind with evidence of His will for her life, she responded with, “Yes, I see it all now: I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say.” (Luke 1:38)Fear was also Joseph’s first response to the dilemma of God interrupting his world. And who can blame them? If you have ever wondered if you were encountering the things of God in your life, chances are you’ve wrestled with fear. Fear of what will people think if you get “religious”. Fear of breaking family custom, fear of what this may mean for changes in relationships, habits, activities, and personal autonomy. Even fear of walking into a church. Let’s be honest, nudging of the spiritual kind make most people uncomfortable.
If you follow the history of God working in humanity, you will uncover a long story line of people whose personal plans were interrupted by divine will. Noah, Joseph, Abraham, Ruth, Esther, David, Pete r, the list could go on. There were birthing moments for them, when they surrendered their will to follow an unseen but deeply felt God. The result, they birthed their personhood into a spiritual reality. They still lived amongst family, jobs, and events of the day, but internally, a new beginning had occurred.
Even Jesus took this path. To help me understand that, I’m glad I’m a believer in the doctrine of the Trinity. This is the Christian canon that teaches God is not a loner. God is a compilation of three dimensions – Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Father, teaches me that all humankind has it’s beginning from God. That’s why we value the dignity of human life as sacred. Son teaches that love and nurture is an inherent part of who God is. Holy Spirit means God is constantly at work moving amongst our hearts and minds. Because God himself is a communal being, we carry that quality. We love being part of family, having friends, being cared for. We are created like God, to want to be connected. Imagine then a love so deep that God allows the Son portion of himself to be given to earthlings. That is the first gift of Christmas.
Jesus’ birth point into humanity occurred because God knew the world needed saving. Humanity was bent on wrenching itself away from the purpose for which God created it. Interesting to me, that I can most clearly count my own spiritual birth point during one of those wrenching times. I was an angry teen, exiled to a Bible camp against my own will. For the first part of the summer, I sat in my bunk through every spiritual meeting, sulking and angry. Earlier troubles had convinced me that if there were a God, I was certainly exiled from his attention. I was in a wrenching season – would I tear myself away from the reality of God?
Following Jesus’ earthly birth, He has a conversation with a curious and influential teacher who was confused about the need to have a spiritual birth. To answer the man’s questions, the Gospel of John records that Jesus said the following: “When you look at a baby, it’s just that; a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch – the Spirit- and becomes a living spirit. So don’t be surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’.” John 3: 6-7
Strasbourg, France – December 20, 2016: Nativity scene statues during Christmas Market in Strasbourg, France with Jesus, Mary and Joseph
I was ‘born from above’ one night in that wrenching summer at Bible camp. I remember walking out in the dark to the campfire meeting where people with hearts seemingly much softer than mine, were singing sweetly the tunes of gospel songs. I was most uncomfortable, as what I know now as the Holy Spirit, was blowing into every angry crevice I had created in my heart.
I took a small stick, threw it into the fire, and that was my birth moment. The stick burning meant I was saying yes, I would surrender to an unseen, but deeply felt God. God saves, means God can handle my sin. I’ve been confessing privately, sometimes publicly, but always regularly ever since. Last week I angrily threw my teenager’s choice for music into a snow bank – a sorry admission that even though I walk with God, there’s a steady supply of sin just waiting to bite into my daily choices.
Since my spiritual birth point, the Holy Spirit has crafted my life to be a story finder. For the past ten years, I have been documenting how God works in the lives of people. I have seen the peace that God brings, I’ve encountered remarkable miracles, healed bodies, mended marriages, demons delivered, addictions cured, grief comforted, in fact I echo what the writer in the gospel of John concludes with:
“There are so many other things Jesus did. If they were all written down, each of them, one by one, I can’t imagine a world enough to hold such a library of books.” John 21:25
Birth points with Jesus are all different, some are deeply emotional, some quite intellectual. Some at a church alter, some with a friend, some quietly at home as you read, as you pray. You might pray it right now – “Yes Jesus, I believe in you. Let me be born from above, born into Your will to shape my life.”
That is the true discovery of Jesus – the Jesus who started this entire globe into a celebration of Christmas.
|(by Lorna Dueck – December 2000)|
All scriptural quotes are taken from The Message, the New Testament in
Contemporary English, by Eugene Peterson,
(Navpress , P.O. Box 35001, Colorado Springs, Co 80935)